The exhibition’s topic, feathers, offers a myriad of stories about a wide variety of applications and meanings. Together with the museum’s curators, Kossmann.dejong has opted for a thematic approach to the different exhibition spaces. This allows for a multi-layered narrative, including topics such as ‘cultural exchange’, ‘imposing feathers’, ‘feathers of seduction’ and ‘feathers and power’. Each room has a dedicated theatrical scenography that enhances the exploration of a certain aspect. Under the direction of Kossmann.dejong, light, sound and media designers have generated a total experience in which all senses are stimulated. In each room visitors are immersed in an entirely different world. Step by step different aspects can be discovered and further layers of meaning can be explored.
Fascination for nature is a key undercurrent in the exhibition. In one of the rooms, Kossmann.dejong underlines the rudimentary nakedness of us humans in comparison to the splendour of many birds. Visitors will be watching a true ‘birds’ paradise’, but in this case they are the ones behind bars, in an enormous cage. The cage comprises a set of story boxes; transparent showcases in which sub topics are explored by way of animations, artefacts, light, text and illustrations. They focus on how we humans use birds and feathers for our own purposes.
Typical for Kossmann.dejong’s way of working is also how the theme ‘feathers of seduction’ has been approached. As if explained by her personally, Marilyn Monroe receives the visitor covered in just a couple of feathers, in a burlesque boudoir of saturated reds and surrounded by sultry music. The viewer turns into a peeping Tom in an obscure peepshow. Small peepholes in a padded wall give visual access to a private performance of strange birds and seductive feathers. The visual resonance between the image of Miss Monroe and one of a majestic white peacock provides the introduction to a room about how to impress. Across the world both men and women wear feathers to underline their status and prestige. Because the National Museum of Ethnology is about the stories of people, each piece of headwear in this room is accompanied by an impressive portrait of the person wearing it. In the room that covers feather working techniques, Kossmann.dejong uses another perspective to the narrative: zooming in. Here visitors are given a chance to look through the seamstress’s magnifying glass, so to speak, in a fashion studio.
Following a visit to an imposing, monumental royal room, in which the design centres on colour, the exhibitions ends with a highlight of haute couture feather art. In an ode to the creativity of contemporary fashion designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler, Kossmann.dejong has designed a dynamic fashion show full of rhythmical light and sound effects. Films bring the feathered dresses alive, and let them sashay down the catwalk. With ‘A World of Feathers’ Kossmann.dejong has created a theatrical narrative, full of meaning and a feast for the eyes.
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Photography by Thijs Wolzak